The Top Three Mental Traps that Keep You Stuck in Overwhelm

Today I’m back with a pretty bold statement:

The cycle of overwhelm, stress, fatigue, burnout, and ill health is epidemic in our culture.

It’s not that society’s demands to do-it-all (and with a smile) are causing our ill health or symptoms, but these demands pile on top of all of the other things that we may not even realize are causing us stress—leading to physical, mental, and emotional overwhelm.

Once this happens, we lack the bandwidth to do what we need to do to take care of ourselves, and even more important, to deal with the inevitable stresses that are a part of modern life.

Today, I want to talk about three of the common mental traps that keep you stuck in this cycle.

These are so conditioned into our culture that you may not even realize they’re part of the problem.


🧘Trap #1: Adding self-care to your to-do list (without taking anything out).

Everywhere we look, we’re told a happy healthy life is just around the corner if we would just prioritize self-care. But the problem is that carving out the time and sustaining the commitment to do the work of self-care often means adding another layer of overwhelm to our already high-pressured, overcommitted lives.

Daily exercise, mindfulness, deep breathing, meditation—all of the things that are supposed to fix the problem miss the bigger point because they are characterized by their focus on managing the stress we experience, rather than on decreasing whatever is producing the stress in the first place.

But then when we stay at work just 10 minutes too late to make yoga, or are too rushed in the morning to meditate, we feel guilty for not following through.

Even worse, if there is a financial investment as well—a class pass, exercise equipment, supplements, etc., now we feel like we’re throwing money away. Our money guilt piles on top of the overwhelm we’re already feeling.

Tip: In order to truly feel better, you have to first decrease your overall load so you have room to deal with the inevitable stresses that you face day-in and day-out.

🙆 Trap #2: Comparing your stress levels to those around you.

Think of the most energetic, vital person you know.

You might be inclined to think she doesn’t have any stressors in her life, or that she handles them ten times better than you do, but the truth could be any number of things.

Perhaps she won the genetic lottery and can add more things to her plate before she gets overwhelmed.

Perhaps she’s on an elephant sized dose of valium.

Or perhaps she’s falling apart inside, but she’s only showing you the vision of her life she wants you to see.

The truth is that each and every person is born with a different capacity for handling their own accumulation of stress and overwhelm. When that capacity overflows, we manifest illness or disease, anxiety or depression, fatigue or hopelessness.

Comparing yourself to others not only adds to your overall stress level (because we typically only see the parts of people’s lives they want us to see), but it also is self-defeating. As long as you are looking externally to gauge how you’re doing, you’re not learning what is optimal for you.

Tip: Focus on yourself and what’s most important to you.

🔨 Trap #3: Disregarding the impact minor annoyances can have on your overall health and energy levels.

When you think of your stressors or source of overwhelm, you probably think of it in one of two ways.

First, as a byproduct of your never-ending to-do list.

And second, as a result of major life events and changes such as divorce, death of a loved one, getting married, moving, starting school, a sick family member, work pressures, or other circumstances that are out of our control.

While these big stresses create a significant impact, no doubt about it, it’s actually more complicated than that.

What also contributes to overwhelm is an accumulation of minor issues and daily irritants that you probably don’t recognize as being impactful. This can run the gamut from the meals you’re skipping, the squeaky door you’re not fixing, or the flat, ratty old pillow that you’re sleeping on.

In other words, the little things add up to big things.

Tip: Pick a few small things you can take off of your plate today.

So what can you do about these mental traps in the big picture?

Here’s the truth: there is no single formula that will eliminate your stress, overcome overwhelm or cure your health problems.

Each patient or client I work with has a different set of challenges, a different set of changes they need and want to make, and different feelings about which of those changes will be most doable.

There are some things that will be simply non-negotiable: a diabetic has to avoid sugar; a person who wants to lose fat and put on muscle will need to exercise.

Beyond those few non-negotiables that exist for each person, however, there are countless ways to lower your overall load, leading to more energy and better health.

Let’s find them together!

Yours in Health,

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